Protecting yourself and others from coronavirus (COVID-19)

Updated on

This advice is based on our medical staff and CDC guidelines about COVID-19. We update this site when new information is available. New information may also be available from the CDC.

Is this an emergency?

If you’re suffering from a life threatening condition, stop and call 911.

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The best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19

Stop the Spread

  • Keep at least 6 feet from other people no matter where you are.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • If possible, avoid public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis or take measures to protect yourself when using these services.
  • When venturing out, know the risk for certain behaviors.

Wear a mask or cloth face covering

  • The CDC recommends all persons age 2 y.o. and older wear a mask or cloth face covering over their nose and mouth when they leave the house.
  • Wear a cloth face covering like a bandana, scarf, or home-sewn cloth mask over your nose and mouth if you can’t find a mask.
  • Cloth face coverings with two to three layers of cloth are most effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
  • Use a cloth made from cotton or a cotton-blend.
  • Discard your disposable mask, or launder your face covering, every day.
  • Wear a mask or cloth face covering when you are in the same room as someone who is sick and they aren’t able to wear a mask.
  • DO NOT use masks which have valves or vents (as they do not prevent the spread of virus).
  • Even when you are wearing a mask, keep at least 6 feet from other people.

Who should not wear a mask

Per the CDC, masks should not be worn by:

  • Children younger than 2 years old
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing
  • Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance

Keep your hands clean

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together. Get the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer. Be sure to cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Wash your hands before eating or preparing food.

Keep your hands away from your face

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Be aware of what your hands touch. Disinfect after touching high-touch surfaces especially outside your home.

We know it’s harder than it seems, but try your best. Keeping your hands away from your face is a big way of not getting sick because the virus is transmitted through our eyes, nose, and mouth.

Cover your cough

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Use the inside of your elbow if you don’t have a tissue.
  • Throw used tissues in a lined trash bin.
  • Wash your hands immediately.
  • Wear a mask or face covering to protect yourself and others.

Keep surfaces clean

  • Surfaces like door handles, light switches, faucets, and keyboards can spread the virus because they are touched a lot.
  • Clean surfaces with detergent or soap and water and then disinfect them.
  • Disinfect any places that might have blood, stool or body fluids.
  • Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work. 
  • Make sure the disinfectant is right for the surface.

You can make bleach to use at home by mixing 5 tablespoons (⅓ cup) of bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water.

Don’t share personal household items

  • Don’t share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home.
  • Wash these items carefully with soap and water after they’re used.

How to protect people if you have COVID-19

If you have mild signs of COVID-19

Is this an emergency?

If you’re suffering from a life threatening condition, stop and call 911.

Stay home until your symptoms go away.

  • Self isolate at home.
  • Wear a mask or face covering when you are around other people or pets, and if you go out in public.
  • If you have a medical appointment, contact your provider and tell them that you have or may have COVID-19.
  • Immediately contact your provider if you get sicker and let them know you may have COVID-19.

Mild symptoms of COVID-19 will last on average from 5 to 14 days, and sometimes longer if the symptoms are more serious.

If you have a positive test result for COVID-19

Is this an emergency?

If you’re suffering from a life threatening condition, stop and call 911.

  • Isolate yourself at home until the risk of spreading COVID-19 to others is thought to be low or you have advice from your provider.
  • Immediately contact your provider if you get sicker and let them know you have COVID-19.

How to self isolate

  • As much as you can, stay in one specific room away from other people in your home.
  • Use a separate bathroom, if you can.
  • Cut down your contact with pets and animals as much as you can, like you would around other people.
  • Wear a mask or face covering when you are around other people or pets, and when you go out in public.
  • If you have a medical appointment, contact your provider and tell them that you have or may have COVID-19.

When to stop self isolating

Stay at home until your symptoms go away. This means

  • at least 1 day (24 hours) since recovery (your fever has gone away and you are not using fever-reducing medicine like acetaminophen (like Tylenol) and ibuprofen (like Advil)), and improvement in respiratory symptoms (like a cough; or shortness of breath) and
  • at least 10 days since symptoms of COVID-19 first appeared.

If you have a positive test result for COVID-19, stay at home until you have advice from your provider.

Should you take supplements during COVID-19

Does taking vitamin C prevent COVID-19

We don’t know.

There is no evidence that taking vitamin C will help prevent COVID-19.

While standard doses of vitamin C are generally harmless, high doses can cause a number of side effects, including nausea, cramps, and an increased risk of kidney stones.

Does taking elderberry help treat COVID-19

We don’t know.

No supplements have been proven to be effective in preventing or treating COVID-19.

How COVID-19 spreads

COVID-19 mainly spreads from person to person by people who have spent time close to each other. It can be spread by

  • breathing in droplets made by someone who has COVID-19 when they cough, sneeze, or speak, or when those droplets land in mouths or noses
  • touching your face with contaminated hands.

Someone who has COVID-19 without any signs of being sick also can spread the virus by talking and breathing close to others.

COVID-19 is spread mainly from person to person and enters our body through the nose, mouth, or eyes. This is most likely to occur between people who are spending time together in close contact with one another (within 6 feet). 

Respiratory droplets are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

COVID-19 is also spread by touching your face with contaminated hands. Hands can be contaminated by shaking hands with a person who has COVID-19 or touching something they recently touched.

Research now tells us that people can transmit the COVID-19 virus via aerosol (talking and breathing) without having any signs of illness.

Why social distancing is important

Social distancing is our best hope to slow the spread of COVID-19, and to free up our healthcare system to care for those who need it the most.

Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation but social solidarity for those who have a higher risk for serious medical conditions.

Some high-risk patients with COVID-19 will experience pneumonia in both lungs, multi-organ failure, and in some cases, death. Anyone with COVID-19 could be a loved one or thousands of people we don’t know. Through social distancing, we’re all committing to support each other by making sacrifices for the greater good.

Should gloves be routinely worn when leaving the home

No

In general, wearing gloves when performing day-to-day activities outside of the home is neither recommended nor needed.

  • In situations where you are taking care of a patient who may be sick with COVID-19 or are cleaning, gloves are recommended. 
  • Use disposable gloves when having contact with blood or other body fluids.
  • The use of gloves is not a substitute for good hand hygiene; wash hands thoroughly after removing gloves. 
  • Properly dispose of gloves after use and do not disinfect or reuse gloves.

What contact tracing is and how contact tracing works

Health authorities around the world are using contact tracing to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

It’s used to find out where people with COVID-19 have been and who they’ve been close to.

People who have been close to someone who has COVID-19 are more likely to get COVID-19. 

If we know who these people are, we can tell them how to protect themselves and others. This will help look after people who might have COVID-19 and help slow down COVID-19 spreading.

Contact tracing is normally done by interviewing people who have COVID-19. These interviews help find out where those people have been and who they may have been close to.

To help do contact tracing, public health and government officials are starting to use mobile apps. These apps can help by showing where people have been.

Using apps to help do contact tracing is complicated. They must

  • keep information private,
  • stop information being used without permission, and
  • stop information from being wrongly used.

You can learn more about contact tracing from the CDC.

How long does it take for symptoms of COVID-19 to show

It takes 2 to 14 days for symptoms of COVID-19 to show.

This means it may take up to 14 days after someone is infected before they develop symptoms. If you think you have been exposed and have completed self-quarantine for 14 days without developing symptoms, you would not be considered at risk of spreading the virus.

How long it take to recover from COVID-19

If you have mild signs of COVID-19

Mild symptoms of COVID-19 will last on average from 5 to 14 days, and sometimes longer if the symptoms are more serious.

Stay at home until your symptoms have resolved.

If you have a positive test result for COVID-19

Isolate yourself at home until the risk of spreading COVID-19 to others is thought to be low.

Stay home from work until

  • at least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since recovery (resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications) and improvement in respiratory symptoms (like a cough or shortness of breath);
  • at least 6 days have passed since symptoms of COVID-19 first appeared; and
  • your doctor tells you it’s safe to return to work.

Can there be long term complications of COVID-19

Yes

Although we are learning more everyday, several recent studies have highlighted that various organ systems can be affected long term.  A recent study in JAMA Cardiology showed prolonged heart inflammation even after several months from testing positive for COVID-19.

A study from The Lancet showed evidence of changes in brain matter months after recovering from COVID-19, particularly in areas that affect memory and smell.  

Is it safe to donate blood during COVID-19

Yes, it’s safe to donate blood.

The FDA and the CDC released statements encouraging healthy individuals to donate blood if they can.

The U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has said, “You can still go out and give blood. We’re worried about potential blood shortages in the future.”

Are alcohol based sanitizers safe for hand-washing

Generally, Yes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends use of hand sanitizers with at least 60% ethanol (ethyl alcohol) when soap and water is not available for hand hygiene. Hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 20 seconds periodically and specifically after using the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning about some hand sanitizer products which contain substance(s) which may be harmful. For a complete list of the recalled products, visit the FDA website.

Preventing community spread

Is it safe to travel on airplanes during COVID-19

Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. According to the CDC, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and you may have to sit near others (within 6 feet), sometimes for hours. This may increase your risk for exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Is it safe to participate in protests and rallies during COVID-19

If you are symptomatic or have recently been exposed to someone with COVID-19

Do not participate in community protests if you feel ill, have active respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, fever (or other symptoms of COVID-19), or have recently been exposed to a close contact with documented COVID-19.

If you are asymptomatic and plan on joining the protest

  • Wear a mask or facial covering that fully covers your nose and mouth.
  • Strongly consider wearing or having ready access to goggles or eye protection for added protection (avoid wearing contacts).
  • Bring hand sanitizer and use frequently.
  • Avoid sharing drinks, carrying other’s signs or touching objects that others have touched.
  • Attempt to limit your group size and maintain 6 feet of physical distance whenever possible during the activity.
  • Try to avoid crowded activities that involve shouting or singing in close proximity to others and avoid those who are not wearing masks or face coverings if possible.
  • Bring your own water, food or other personal items.

After participating in local protests

Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days after this activity. If you develop even mild symptoms consistent with COVID-19, do not go to work, self-isolate and call your doctor to get tested for COVID-19.

If others who participated in the protests, such as household members, close contacts or those who you had close contact with for more than 15 minutes in an enclosed space (e.g., a car) are diagnosed with COVID-19, or if you receive a call from Public Health about a possible exposure, follow recommendations for self-isolation and call your doctor to get tested for COVID-19.

How to reduce the risk for COVID-19 when using a rideshare (Uber, Lyft)

  • Avoid touching surfaces.
  • Avoid accepting offers of free water bottles and avoid touching magazines or other items that may be provided for free to passengers.
  • Use touchless payment when available.
  • Practice social distancing.
  • Limit the number of passengers in the vehicle to only those necessary.
  • Avoid pooled rides or rides where multiple passengers are picked up who are not in the same household.
  • Sit in the back seat in larger vehicles such as vans and buses so you can remain at least six feet away from the driver.
  • Ask the driver to improve the ventilation in the vehicle if possible — for example, by opening the windows or setting the air ventilation/air conditioning on non-recirculation mode.
  • Practice hand hygiene.
  • After leaving the vehicle, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • When you arrive at your destination, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

How to avoid getting COVID-19 when using public transportation

When using any type of transportation, follow these general principles:

  • Wash your hands at the start of your trip.
  • Wash your hands on arrival at your destination.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow. 
  • Practice social distancing staying at least 6 feet from people who are not in your household. 
  • Consider non-peak hours of travel to avoid larger crowds. 
  • Wear cloth face coverings.
  • Avoid touching surfaces and use touchless payment methods when possible. 

How to protect yourself from COVID-19 while shopping

Stay home if you are sick.

Additionally, consider online ordering and delivery or curbside pick-up to limit exposure to others who may have COVID-19. If you need to go shopping, below are some additional tips to keep you safe.

  • Wear a mask when you leave the house.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others while shopping and in lines.
  • Try going early in the morning or later at night when there may be fewer individuals at the store.
  • Find out if the store has special hours for people at higher risk and use those hours if you are at higher risk.
  • Some locations have banned the use of reusable shopping bags so check with your store to be sure they can be used; if used, ensure they are cleaned before each use.
  • Disinfect the shopping cart by using disinfecting wipes if available.
  • Avoid touching your face while shopping.
  • Use marked entry and exit doors and follow signage or markings to assist with social distancing.
  • Touch only products which you plan to purchase.
  • Avoid sampling of food or food purchases from “self-service” areas.
  • Use touchless payment methods; if you must handle money, a card, or use a keypad, use hand sanitizer immediately after.

How to prevent spread of COVID-19 within schools

The CDC has issued guidance to school administrators on the best measures to reopen schools safely.  These measures include social distancing within schools, good hand hygiene, and consistent use of masks and facial coverings for students and teachers.

Additional steps to avoid and/or contain spread of COVID-19 in schools include:

  •  Use of cohorting (also sometimes referred to as podding) where a group of students and teachers work together over a period of time; these cohorts change from week to week.  This limits cross contact with other teachers and students, as well as reduces contact with shared surfaces while making contact tracing easier should someone develop symptoms.
  • Schools should also take into account their community transmission levels as well. As community transmission increases, cancelling in-person classes may be necessary.
  • Virtual learning may be a reasonable option for areas with high community transmission levels or where levels of community transmission are increasing.

Deciding the best school option for your children is likely not an easy decision, but making sure that your school is following the guidelines is an important step.

How to prevent COVID-19 when eating at a restaurant

The safest way to patronize your favorite restaurant remains using take-out or contactless delivery. While many restaurants are opening to both outside and inside seating, observing these additional safety precautions can help decrease the spread of COVID-19:

  • Before eating at a restaurant, check the restaurant employees safety practices. Ensure that the employees are wearing cloth face coverings and are regularly disinfecting high-touch services. 
  • Ensure that establishments have tables spaced 6 feet from each other. 
  • If outdoor seating and digital or disposable menus are available, they are the safer options. 
  • Do not use salad bars, buffets, and shared drink-filling stations that require use of common utensils or dispenser. 
  • Wear a face covering as much as possible when you are not eating.
  • If possible, use touchless payment options for both in-restaurant and carry-out dining. 
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before starting to eat and after eating. 

Is it safe to trick-or-treat for Halloween?

Not this year

The CDC recently issued a statement stratifying risk for traditional activities for Halloween.  They say that both traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating and trunk-or-treating (passing out candy from the trunks of cars) are both considered high risk activities for spreading COVID-19 and should be avoided.

Can we go on hay rides and have halloween parties during COVID-19?

Not this year

The CDC lists going on hayride or tractor rides with people that are not in your family as a high risk activity for spreading the virus.  Going to crowded indoor costume parties and going to indoor haunted houses where people are screaming should also be avoided.

Can children spread COVID-19

Probably

Transmission rates among children and between children and adults are still being studied, and data is limited at this time. Early evidence has suggested that while children are less likely to spread the virus than adults, it can not be conclusively said that they can not spread COVID-19.

COVID-19 and Animals

Can I catch COVID-19 from my pet

While scientists continue to look at the connection between animals and transmission of COVID-19 to humans, what is currently known includes:

  • While they do not know what exactly caused the COVID-19 outbreak, it is thought that it originally came from an animal species, such as a bat.
  • While research continues, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading COVID-19.
  • While the risk is low, scientists are still learning about how COVID-19 can spread from animals to humans but appears possible in some situations.
  • It remains unclear if an animal can be infected with COVID-19 and show no symptoms but yet pass it on to humans.
  • The USDA has compiled a list of animals which have been known to be infected with COVID-19.

Avoid contact with animals if you have signs of COVID-19

Keep a safe distance from pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people.

What are the signs my pet may have COVID-19

Similar to symptoms in humans, dogs and cats may show:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing or panting
  • Lethargy
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Eye discharge
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Contact your pets veterinarian if you have concerns about their symptoms.